Ramsey Lewis - Ramsey, Taking Another Look (2011)


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Ramsey Lewis
I skipped right to this album's new edit of “Sun Goddess," a timelessly accessible 1970s R&B fusion number—already singing the familiar wordless chorus from the original by Ramsey Lewis with Earth Wind and Fire: Way-ohhh, waaaaaay-ooooooooh.

In 1974, the sessions for the Sun Goddess album marked a reunion with Earth Wind and Fire leader Maurice White, a former member of the second Ramsey Lewis Trio. The tune became a huge crossover hit, eventually charting on the Pop Singles, Black Singles and Disco Singles charts. There's a still a beat-up copy around here somewhere but—so particular is the memory of this song—I didn't need to dig it out to remember, instantly, every detail.

Initially a hot-buttered ballad featuring this a dreamscape vocal backing from Earth Wind and Fire, the 1970s version of “Sun Goddess" eventually opened up into a roaring rhythmic plateau. Don Myrick's saxophone, brawny and cool, and this chanky-chank guitar (was that Johnny Graham?) worked in cunning contrast with Verdine White's sleek bass lines—to the point where Lewis' rippled electric keyboard was occasionally subsumed in the maelstrom. When singer Philip Bailey and Co. finally returned with another chorus, “Sun Goddess" simply took flight, soaring over the horizon with a stirring hopefulness.

Then, as now, the song represented a move into the mainstream, after years of playing in straight-ahead acoustic settings for Lewis. Earth Wind and Fire were still polishing and perfecting this heady combination of urbane soul and fonky jazz, eventually turning “After the Love is Gone," with a similarly constructed vocal effect, into a Grammy-winning hit song. In many ways, they used this date with Lewis to propel them toward that new synthesis.

Not much changes with the new edit. In fact, over the course of Taking Another Look, issued on Tuesday by Hidden Beach Recordings, there's often little deviation from the old Sun Goddess template. Ramsey continues along memory lane with all-but note-for-note renditions of Stevie Wonder's “Living for the City" and the skronky original “Tambura."

Not doing more to differentiate things could be seen as a missed opportunity—if the initial work hadn't been so sweetly groove-laden, just so darn fun, in the first place. As much as I wanted to argue with the smaller ambitions of Taking Another Look, in the end, it was similarly ingratiating.

There's a friendly interactive verve between Ramsey and his new band, which includes keyboardist Mike Logan, guitarist Henry Johnson, drummer Charles Heath and percussionist Joshua Ramos. That's best heard on the album's quietly effective version of the Stylistics' “Betcha By Golly Wow," and the lightly funky “Intimacy." Forgive me, though, if I keep coming back to “Sun Goddess," as it transforms from a moment of almost blinding beauty into this rambunctious blowing session, then (somehow) back again.

Even today, I never want that vocal part to end ... way-ohhh, waaaaaay-ooooooooh ...

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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